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Interview: Equinox co-CEOs on adopting cloud and delivering business value

Delivering business value in a rapidly changing IT climate is getting more difficult as security concerns grow, technology advances by the day and, now, a global pandemic pushes the world into a complete shift in the way we work.

Adopting Agile, DevOps and cloud capabilities can enable greater business value and organisational agility, but the adoption process itself can present numerous challenges for IT and business professionals.

Equinox IT, a leading New Zealand-based IT consultancy, is at the forefront of the new digital ways of working in the country, guiding organisations through adoption processes, solving tough business problems and training professionals to grow the country's digital capability.

Techday caught up with Equinox IT’s co-CEOs David Reiss and Deane Sloan, who walk through the steps of providing business value in 2020 while the world faces pandemic.
 

How can you deliver business value during this unprecedented time?

David:

This is probably the biggest disruption anyone has experienced. Our worldview has always been people over process over platform. A people-first approach is fundamental right now in this new COVID-19 environment that has a significant impact on people's lives and livelihoods.

We're using our people-first approach to help our people and our clients to effectively work remotely.

Deane:

One of our key things is a strong focus on coaching, creating a personal and trusted bond between coaches and clients.  Our coaches are trained by a psychologist in a method that is particularly attuned to the people side of change - which is so critical right now. And now we're taking this digital.

Our people and our clients are tuned in to Microsoft Teams Meetings, and we’re making these very regular now to maintain that good quality in-person connection.


How does Azure DevOps deliver business value for you generally?

David:

We’re lucky because we’re an agile business – both in the work we do for our clients and also how we execute our own strategy.  As a leadership team, we manage our strategic initiatives and our COVID-19 response using Azure DevOps.

This allows us to respond quickly to the disruption, reprioritising work to focus on what is most important now, while keeping all of our people on the same page.

Deane:

It helps us plan and prioritise our work and effectively run our business from a task and outcome perspective.

We get visibility as to what staff are doing across the board – whether it’s deploying cloud workloads for our clients or when we're doing software development work, or progressing our internal initiatives. 

When our techies are using it, they can deploy code and cloud infrastructure in an automated, repeatable way.  This saves time and money, while also improving the reliability and security of our solutions.


How can organisations take advantage of Azure DevOps and cloud?

David:

Azure DevOps gives organisations the ability to make it easier to change and deliver more business value faster than ever before.

If you're going to try and adopt Agile and DevOps, you really have to be using cloud services, like Ingram Micro Cloud.

You need automated environments for software to reside, it’s too hard to do that on-premise. It’s that automation that gives you the agility to be able to do blue-green testing and feature toggling.

On the security side of things, we can configure Azure DevOps as the only way to deploy resources, and this means that we're able to narrow that potential attack vector.


What are the risks of adopting cloud and DevOps without proper planning?

David:

The beautiful thing about cloud is you can turn things on really quickly. The terrible thing about cloud is you can turn things on really quickly without having a plan or the right structure.

This can often lead to unexpected costs, increased security risks and overcomplicated operational management.

Projects have been delivered, but not properly designed and architected. The usual mechanisms for security, governance, operational readiness and resilience haven’t been properly taken into account for cloud projects.

That's often the point where we'll be asked to come in and run through our Cloud Foundations framework to rebuild and re-architect their cloud environment.

Deane:

On DevOps we often see issues around cultural and people change, embedding new ways of working within a broader organisational context that still works in a very traditional way.

Often people adopt new language and some practices, but the mindset, culture and results achieved are underwhelming when compared with high performing DevOps teams.

Many teams moving to DevOps also focus on improvements that provide trivial value, when they could be making substantial improvements by unblocking their areas of greatest constraint. 

Having DevOps expertise to help identify the greatest constraints can be hugely valuable.

It is also important to make sure that people recognise that there may be baggage left from prior initiatives that failed to live up to the hype. 

In such a context it's important to make sure you’ve got the political support in place, then focus on people-over-process-over-platform.


How important is security in your business in this climate?

David:

It’s absolutely essential. The work we do for clients in health, finance and government, for example, is very security-focused. 

But the game has changed; traditional approaches to security aren’t always the best option in a cloud and DevOps world.

It’s about identifying, understanding and mitigating risk. And when you move to cloud, you have the same risks as before, but you’re now faced with different and often more effective ways of mitigating those risks.

Deane:

In understanding risk, it is also about achieving the right balance in your security stance. 

We see some organisations that have strongly responded to previous security issues, now so rigidly secured that they are unable to work remotely.

Things like Identity will also become a challenge for some organisations that are used to working in person. They may find themselves exposed when it comes to confirming who they are really dealing with in a working-from-home context. 

In this context, it’s not the time to be deploying disparate DevOps tooling, with the real possibility that there could be security gaps at the seams. 

Proven and well-secured platforms like Azure DevOps are a good choice with a distributed workforce.


What’s your process for helping clients through cloud and DevOps adoption?

David:

As always, we start with people.  We need to first understand what success looks like for the people within the business – and the business as a whole.

Our Cloud engagements start with our Cloud Foundations framework, to build a cloud adoption plan.  This will help us build the cloud platform – as well as helping the team to adopt new tools and approaches to properly manage the environment in the future.

We run two-day Azure DevOps Innovate Workshops to help organisations adopt Azure DevOps for work planning and automation.

Day One is hands-on training in a sandpit environment, setting the scene for attendees to create an automated deployment of their own solution into Azure on Day Two.

Ongoing coaching and support then ensure that teams adopt and deliver more value using new cloud and DevOps ways of working. 

Deane:

David and I are committed to helping Kiwi businesses respond to COVID-19. We'll do this by sharing the practitioner capability our organisation has to as many businesses as possible, with tightly focused webinars that we'll be delivering starting in April.

Find out more and register your interest in these webinars.

We are also both available to talk about any of these topics; have David call you back or have me (Deane) call you back.

You can also get in touch through our Equinox IT website.